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BY: Jaya Jaitly
How corruption and policy failure hobbled Dilli Haat, a unique experiment in craft promotion.
Dilli Haat, the popular crafts marketplace in Delhi, was set up in 1994 to provide a direct marketing platform for needy artisans to escape the grip of middlemen. It was to be the kind of “safety net” that governments need to provide to small artisans when the market reach of large corporates spreads rapidly. Fairly priced entry tickets and stall rents and a rotational structure of a fortnight’s occupancy per craftsperson were worked out.
The idea was it should break even for government and provide a marketing platform and better incomes and livelihood for small craft producers. If market logic is to be followed and the crafts profession treated as an economic activity, as also a part of a living tradition and heritage, goods had to be sold at realistic prices, which covered not only manufacture but travel, stay in Delhi for a fortnight, and rent of the stalls. No subsidies were considered necessary if suitable infrastructure was provided. Craftspersons were to have the opportunity of engaging directly with customers, getting a fair price, acquiring the confidence to compete in a city, and accessing the purchasing power of the growing middle class.
Dilli Haat is a combined venture of the New Delhi Municipal Council, Delhi Tourism (which manages it), and the ministry of textiles. A coordination committee of representatives of these establishments, along with the architect and this writer, met regularly to identify problems and solutions. Minutes of these meetings were circulated. Decisions were acted upon.
Implementation was monitored regularly. This process kept everyone responsive and committed to maintaining the Haat’s role as a unique and innovative marketing system for craftspeople. Tata Consultancy Services, in a study for the ministry of textiles in the late 1990s, found it the most suitable form of marketing handlooms.
The original idea and six-year effort to establish Dilli Haat was this writer’s — hence the anguish in the title, because within a few years, tussles over turf and seniority between representatives of the ministry of textiles and Delhi Tourism saw a quiet burial of the committee structure and mutual consultation, opening the doors wide to ad hocism and corruption.
Interestingly, the problem with Dilli Haat lies in its tremendous success as a venture that has became a win-win situation for Delhi Tourism, NDMC (which gets a portion of the income), and a big earning opportunity for craftspersons. A fortnight’s total turnover at the Haat continued…